O Holy Night

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And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed.  (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.) And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:) To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child. And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn. And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men. (Luke 2: 1-14, King James Version)

 

Mary and Joseph have arrived.  The crowds are almost too much to take, pushing and crushing as the couple makes their way through them.  Mary doesn’t feel well.  She really needs to just lie down and rest.  And when you don’t feel well, the last place you want to be is somewhere that is not home, somewhere foreign, somewhere so crowded, so unwelcoming.  They need to hurry.  There is not too much time left.

 

They stop at a small inn up on the hill overlooking the shepherds’ pastures down below.  Joseph leaves Mary for a moment and goes to make arrangements for a place to stay.  But when he returns, his face looks frustrated, almost in tears.  He tells Mary that the inn is full.  In fact, the whole town is full.  There is no place to stay.  There is no room.  But he tells Mary that the innkeeper has given them permission to at least go into the stableroom to keep warm.  He’s freshening the hay now.  He actually was very nice and was trying his best to make them comfortable.

 

So Mary and Joseph entered the stableroom and, surrounded by animals, tried to get some rest.   They could still hear the crowded city outside.  They could hear the Roman guards yelling as they tried to control the crowds.  It made the place feel every more foreign, even more foreboding.  But directly overhead, was the brightest star they had ever seen.  It was as if the tiny little stable was being bathed in light.  So Mary laid down and closed her eyes.  She knew that the time was almost here.  She knew that the baby was coming into the world.

 

And on this night of nights, into a cold, dirty stable in a small town filled with yelling and pushing crowds, into a place occupied by soldiers, into a place that did not feel like home, into a world that had no room, God comes.  The door to the Divine swings open and God and all of heaven burst into our little world, flooding it with Light and Life.  And yet, the child in the manger bathed in light, the very Incarnation of the Divine, Emmanuel, God With Us, the Messiah, is, still, one of us.  God takes the form of one of us–just an ordinary human–a human like you and me–to show us what it means to be one of us, to be human, to be made in the image of God.

 

God comes into a world that is unprepared for God, that has no room for God.  God comes into places that are unclean, unworthy, unacceptable for us, much less for the Divine.  God comes into places that most of us would not go, out of fear of the other, out of fear of the unknown, out of fear of the darkness. And there God makes a home.  The Divine begins to pour into the world and with it a vision of the world pouring into the Divine.  This night, though, is not the pinnacle of our lives but, rather, the beginning of a new chapter.  God comes, bathed in Light, in the humblest of disguises imaginable, into the lowliest of places we know, into the darkest night of the soul, that we might finally know that all of the world is of God, all of the world is bathed in the Divine.  God comes so that we might finally see life as we are called to see it and live life as we are called to live it, filled with mercy and compassion and awareness of our connectedness to all the world.  God comes so that we might finally be human, so that we might finally make room.

 

Perhaps the world will never be completely ready for God.  If God waited for us to be completely prepared, God would never come at all.  But this God doesn’t need our preparation. This God doesn’t need to come into a place that is cleaned up and sanitized for God.  Instead, God comes when and where God comes.  God comes into godforsakenness, into a world that is occupied by foreignness, where the need for God is the greatest, into a world that cries out for justice and peace, and there God makes a home.  God comes into the darkness and bathes it in light.

 

The time is here.  In this moment, the door to the Divine swings open and God and all of heaven are now bursting into the world.  If you stop and listen, just for a moment, you can hear the harps eternal in the distance as they approach our lives.  Can’t you feel it?  Doors opening, light flooding in, the earth filled with a new vision of hope and peace.  Maybe, just maybe, tonight will be different.  Maybe this is the night that the world chooses peace and justice and love.  Maybe this is the night that the world takes joy. Maybe this is the night when the world realizes that it is already filled with the Divine.  Maybe this is the night when we become human.  Maybe this is the night that we make room.

 

It gets darker and darker…and then Jesus is born. (Ann Lamott)

 

Merry Christmas!

Shelli

 

Silencing the Frenzy

dreamstimefree_2009266120But the Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him! (Habakkuk 2:20)

Well, tis the season!  THIRTEEN MORE DAYS!!! 20% OFF ONE DAY ONLY!!!  FREE SHIPPING TODAY ONLY!  FIRST 100 CUSTOMERS RECEIVE A FREE ______________ [I don’t know, just fill in the blank!]  The truth is, we are frenzied!  We live at a frenzied pace with which, truth be known, none of us can keep up.  I think about my last couple of days.  I haven’t even been able to breathe. Today I decorated five Christmas trees (one big one, four small ones), straightened my house, decorated all over the house, made a cheesecake, and now I’m writing this really late blog. Oh yeah…I wrote a sermon too! I think it’s just a conspiracy to keep us from dancing!  (Sorry this is so late in the day!)

But, think about it–we’re probably not the first people on the planet to live frenzied.  Think back–”Joseph, you’ll need to spend the next few days and take off from your carpenter’s job (unpaid, I’m guessing) and pop over to Bethlehem to pay this new tax that we’ve concocted.  We hope that works for you. Oh?  Your wife is about to go into labor?  And, really, she is birthing the salvation of the world, the Son of the God, the Messiah?  Well, that’s great, but you still need to pay your taxes on time or we can garnish your wages or take your house or throw you into one of those new Roman prisons.”  And so they went–Mary and Joseph, supposedly on a donkey or a mule or something of the like.  They arrived in Bethlehem.  But apparently everyone had gotten the same notice.  Do you believe all this traffic?  Why didn’t we make a reservation?  (Oh, really, Joseph?  What were you thinking?) Where is that first century Groupon when you need it?  Mary, I know this is hard.  I PROMISE that I will find a place for us to spend the night.  You’re WHAT?  NOW?  Are you kidding me?

We all know the story.  There would be no room.  There would be frenzy.  And so we made do.  We took what we could get–a sort of back room filled with hay and cast-off blankets.  It was filled with animals cowering from the cold.  And there Jesus was born into the frenzy of the world.  Truth be known–there was never calm but there was always peace.  But the point is that God still came–came into the frenzy of the world.  God does not wait until everything is calm and together.  God does not come because you have all the decorations up; God does not come because you finally have all the gifts wrapped; and God does not come because the world is ready, because the world is at peace. God just comes, frenzy and all.  And all we have to do is put on our dancing shoes!

So, THIS Advent, let go of the frenzy and remember…the Lord is already in the temple…the Lord has already come…God is just waiting for us to notice.
There is nothing so much like God in all the universe as silence. (Meister Eckhart)

 

Grace and Peace,

 

Shelli

 

The Wilderness is Where We Came to Be

nativity-story_282_resizedScripture Text:  Luke 2: 1-7

In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3All went to their own towns to be registered. 4Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. 5He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. 6While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. 7And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.

 

Oh not this!  How can you call this beautiful story the wilderness?  But the truth is, Jesus was born into a wilderness.  Joseph and Mary had had to travel some distance to get to this place.  And the setting, for all the wonder and awe that it holds for us was not idyllic—forced occupation, taxation without representation, poor couple, long trip under less than favorable circumstances, and, then, no room when they got there.  See, in our haste to welcome the child each year and celebrate once again his arrival into the world, we forget the circumstances into which he came.  We forget that he first appeared in the dim lights of a grotto drenched with the waters of new Creation, with the smell of God still in his breath.  We forget that Mary was probably in tears most of the night as she tried to be strong, entering a realm that she had never entered.  And we forget that Joseph felt oh so very responsible and that the weight of that responsibility, the responsibility for essentially birthing God into this world, was heavy on his shoulders.  We remember Jesus’ birth, the moment when we came to be.  But we forget that the wilderness is where we came to be.

Now this is, of course, not the first time that God has appeared in the wilderness.  Incarnations were happening all along.  God came as winds sweeping across the waters, burning bushes, and thick clouds that shrouded mountains.  God came in dreams and whirlwinds and strange manna appearing in the wilderness.  God always came.  Perhaps we were too busy with our lives to notice.  So, on this particular night in this particular place, God called us into the wilderness of our lives so that we would finally notice.  God seeks us out, showing us the sacredness that had been created for us, the holy that we had missed all along.  On this silent night, in the thick wilderness of night, God comes and dances with humanity, crossing the line between the ordinary and the Divine if only for a while.  God comes to us.

Haven’t you always thought that it would have made more sense for Jesus to born into the establishment, perhaps into at least moderate wealth, in a place where it all would have been noticed?  OK, really?  So what would have happened if Jesus had been born into a single-family McMansion in the suburbs?  See, God always comes into the wilderness.  God chooses to call us into the wild where we will notice that God is there.  God calls us away from what we know, away from those places where we get comfortable and close ourselves off.  God calls us to the place where we are open to newness, open to encounter, open to walking toward rather than closing off.  And on this night, on this beautiful silent night with angels singing and stars shining, the walk to the Cross began.  The wilderness is where we can come to be because it is the place where we know nothing else other than to walk forward.  This season of Lent, this season of walking to the Cross did not just begin this last Ash Wednesday.  It began long ago on that silent night in the wilderness.  It began in the darkness of the wilderness when we came to be.
It gets darker and darker…and then Jesus is born. (Ann Lamott)

FOR TODAY:  Leave the comforts of your life and walk into a wilderness.  What do you see?  Who do you encounter?  Now keep walking.

Grace and Peace,

Shelli